Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rare Old Mountain Dew - Jameson 12 year-old

"So take off your coat and grease your throat with a bucket of the mountain dew"
- from Rare Old Mountain Dew, an Irish folk song (sung by the Irish Rovers)

When hearing the word "whiskey", you could be forgiven If Ireland isn't the first country that pops into your head. Strange, given that it is the country with perhaps the oldest claim to whiskey and thought to be where distillation of beer originated sometime in the 12th century. Although whiskey has always taken a backseat to Ireland's more popular export: Beer (Guinness, anyone?), Ireland does deserve some distinction in the whiskey world. It is thought that Irish missionary monks practicing distillation brought the craft with them as they travelled east over the sea to the Hebrides and Scotland, effectively starting the whisky industry there sometime before 1494 (the first recorded instance of whisky-making in Scotland). The Old Bushmills distillery in County Antrim is the oldest surviving licensed distillery in the world, having gained a license from James I way back in 1608.

Irish whiskey has several characteristics which distinguish it from other styles: 1) Most Irish whiskey is distilled three times (as opposed to the more common double distillation) which gives it a lighter style than many Scotch whiskies. 2) The use of pot-shaped stills 3) The use of malted and "green" or unmalted barley. Once again, these are trends but there are always exceptions, and Irish distillers continue to experiment with their products along the same veins as other whiskey makers around the world.

St. Patrick's Day on the horizon and my favourite Irish folk group scheduled to be in town for a concert - perfect conditions for the tasting of a great Irish whiskey. I grew up listening to the Irish Rovers on vinyl LPs owned by my parents and grandparents. The Rovers have been performing for more than 40 years, singing a mix of traditional Irish music combined with some of their own material. Their appearances on several television specials broadcast on the CBC during the 70's was where I got to see them as a child. I've continued to listen to them off and on during the years, so they hold a lot of nostalgic value for me. When I heard that they would be coming to Moncton for a concert, it was a no-brainer.

Undeterred by the possibility of being the youngest attendees (by at least a decade), I convinced a couple of friends to join us for the show. The plan was to meet at our friends' place for a couple of drams of a nice Irish whiskey before walking down to the show. My original target was a bottle of Bushmills 10 y-o, but when it wasn't available Jameson 12 y-o seemed like the logical second choice (although I was sorely tempted by a bottle of Tullamore Dew). The selection of Irish whiskies is unfortunately quite limited when compared to either Scotch or even bourbon. Of the handful that are available, the Jameson and Bushmills blends are probably the two best-known Irish whiskies in Canada.

Everyone had time for two drams before heading down to the Capitol Theatre in Moncton where the Rovers were performing. They put on an amazing show with an incredible amount of energy for men of their age (they haven't lost a step!), keeping the crowd involved and throwing in lots of jokes and anecdotes. Although we definitely represented the lower age demographic of the crowd, there were many "rejuvenated" seniors acting younger than us! Over the course of the show, there must have been at least 20 references to whiskey in the songs, jokes and stories. All in all, it was everything I had hoped for. After the show, the Rovers held an autograph session where your blogger proudly produced an old vinyl LP of "Hung Up", a Rovers album from the late 60's. It had originally belonged to my paternal grandparents and represented some of my earliest memories of the Irish Rovers, who were surprised to see it and more than happy to autograph it.
Jameson is produced at the New Midleton distillery in County Cork, Southern Ireland. The company was first established in Dublin back in 1780 before moving to Cork. The Jameson brand is currently owned by the French beverage conglomerate Pernod Ricard and is the most popular Irish whiskey in the world. The standard Jameson with no age statement runs for about 30$ CDN for a 750ml bottle. For this tasting, we wanted to try their 12 y-o which set me back about $50 CDN.

Jameson 12 year-old

Nose: Cinnamon hearts, toasted oak and vanilla with sugar - marshmallows? Some apple notes.

Palate: Light, creamy and smooth - Irish whiskey all the way. Very oily in the glass, with long legs, but not as oily in the mouth - quite light.

Taste: Malty sweetness at the front, toasted wood and some light sherry and toffee notes. Bitterness at the back of the tongue.

Finish: Sharp and somewhat bitter medium-long finish. Unfortunately, it is the bitterness that remains. This is a whiskey that gets much better as you drink it. The bitterness starts to disappear and you get more of the sweetness and subtle toffee, sherry and fruit flavours. Best to have at least two drams of this one to appreciate it properly!

Value: This bottle was purchased for about $50 CDN. Not bad for a twelve year-old, as Irish whiskies are only now starting to command the high prices of their Scotch contemporaries. It is a safe purchase and a very pleasant whisky which stays true to the traditional Irish style. Personally, I prefer whiskies with a little more kick or "oomph", but would be curious to see how it compares to the more common Jameson with no age statement.

The music and whiskey were a perfect complement to each other, both evoking the spirit (no pun intended) of Ireland. Hopefully other Irish whiskies will soon be making their way across the Atlantic to our shores, adding to the same rich and vibrant culture as the Rovers and countless other Irish immigrants over the years!